Condit the Recondite
Gary A. Condit, 53, a U.S. congressman from Modesto, California embroiled in a sex and missing persons scandal, has distinguished himself by what some would call 'reticence' and others would call outright 'stonewalling.'
Former President Bill Clinton (elected 1992, re-elected 1996) was impeached by the House of Representatives, in part for alleged perjury in denying his affair with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Gary A. Condit, a U.S. Congressman (D.- CA), admitted only in a third interview with police investigating the disappearance on May 1, 2001 of Chandra Levy, 24, of Modesto, that he had been sexually involved with Ms. Levy, an intern for the Justice Department.
Condit maintained public silence about the matter for nearly four months--to the frustration of his colleagues and constituents who variously called for his vindication and for his resignation--until finally consenting to appear on a television news magazine on August 23. The lawmaker's woes were intensified when Anne Marie Smith, 40, a flight attendant, alleged that she had had a year-long affair with Condit which he sought to get her to deny in a sworn affidavit. Condit's lawyer asserted that his client and Ms. Smith had different definitions of the word, "relationship."
Meanwhile, Condit's district (which includes the city of Modesto) was redrawn, with the result that it includes more Hispanics, traditionally believed to vote Democratic, which by some calculations increased to 15% the 5% edge held there by Democrats over Republicans. On September 8, CNN reported that Condit was leaning toward retirement at the end of his 2-year term, an option doubtless more palatable to him than those discussed in the next section.
The Constitutional Parameters of Member Misconduct
Under Article I, Section 6 of the U.S. Constitution, congressmen (and senators) are privileged from arrest during attendance at sessions of their respective legislative houses in all cases except treason, felony and breach of the peace, and may be questioned only in that sanctum.
In 1983, House Members Daniel Crane (R-IL) and Gerry Studds (D-MA) were censured for engaging in sexual relations with 17-year-old Congressional pages. Censure resolutions are adopted by majority vote and punishment usually consists of the Member coming forward to be formally denounced in the well of the House. Expulsion requires a two-thirds vote. The offending Member may address the assembly in his own defense.
A Member convicted of a felony may be stripped of his/her committee chairmanship. Condit is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, but chairman of none. Critics have called for his removal from the Committee, asserting that he would be vulnerable to blackmail. Condit's adult children resigned their state posts to protest unfavorable comments made by the governor of California.
Congressional historians say there is no precedent for removing a member from a committee in the middle of a session because of personal indiscretions. (Condit is not a formal suspect and has not been charged with any felony in connection with Levy's disappearance.) The result is that we here tread upon new territory. Minority House Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO.) recently convened a series of meetings with his peers to consult on the action to be taken.
In a departure from Constitutional prerogative, Condit offered up his testimony and demeanor on national television, permitting the viewing public to make a direct assessment of his culpability and credibility. Excerpts follow in the next section.
[On September 11, Congressman Condit's strained face as poster-boy miscreant was summarily replaced by the serene visage of alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden. Eds.]
Excerpts from Condit's August 23rd TV Interview with Connie Chung
Condit submitted to questioning by Connie Chung on ABC's "Prime Time Live" on Thursday, August 23. There was a widespread sense that he was not forthcoming in the interview--for which a sizable audience tuned in.
Frank Rich, writing for The New York Times on September 1 in an editorial piece entitled "Big Boys Should Cry," asked:
What does it say that more Americans watched Condit and Chung than any other TV show this summer or any other news broadcast in more than two years? Was Planet of the Apes really that bad?
Doubtless many people wanted to see and judge for themselves whether Condit was credible--whatever the substance of his statements. The questioning went immediately to his knowledge concerning the fate of Chandra Levy, missing since May 1:
CHUNG: Congressman Condit, do you know what happened to Chandra Levy?
Chung next asked Condit to describe the precise nature of his relationship with Ms. Levy:
CONDIT: We had a close relationship. I liked her very much.
The Levy's subsequently denied making any request that Condit not discuss the nature of his relationship with their daughter.
When Chung reminded Condit that he had called for President Bill Clinton to "lay the facts on the table" concerning Monica Lewinsky, he responded that the quote had been taken out of context and that the "real issue" was that he, Condit, had voted four times against impeaching Clinton.
In response to questioning, Condit asserted that he had made no declarations of affection and no promises to Chandra Levy, nor she to him.
CHUNG: Did she want you to leave your wife?
Condit's use of the term, "that woman," reminiscent of Clinton's finger-pointing denial, struck an odd chord. Chung sought to coax Condit beyond the evasiveness of which he had been criticized by law enforcement officials:
CHUNG: Don't you realize that part of the reason why you're in the situation that you're in is because that there have been ambiguous or, uh, evasive answers to specific questions?
Chandra Levy's mother claims to have asked Condit directly early on whether he had had an affair with her daughter, and says he denied it.
CONDIT: What Mrs. Levy asked me was a series of questions about a lot of things. And I'm sorry if she misunderstood, uh, those conversations. . . . I never lied to Mrs. Levy. . . .
Chandra Levy's aunt stated that her niece had told her that Condit imposed a rule that the intern bring no identification on her visits to his apartment.
CHUNG: And when she came to your apartment, did you set rules for her to follow, such as never to bring her identification with her?
The question was relevant inasmuch as Levydisappeared, leaving her identification in her apartment. Pressed on whether he was suggesting that Chandra Levy had lied when she confided to her aunt that the two had been having an affair, Condit reverted to his response about his "mistakes" in his 34-year marriage, his imperfection, and the Levy's ostensible request for discretion.
CONDIT: I don't know why she told the aunt what she told the aunt. She told the aunt apparently a lot of things. But the fact of the matter is--and I'm going to go back to this--I've been married 34 years, I've made some mistakes in my life, I'm not a perfect man. But out of respect for my family, and out of a request, a specific request from the Levy's, I will not go into the details of Chandra Levy at all. . . .
A few minutes before, Condit quite readily responded to Chung's questions about the feelings Ms. Levy and he had (or had not) expressed to one another. He now insisted that "the American people understood" that he and the Levy's were entitled to privacy. He insisted that he had been forthcoming with police, answering every question, giving every detail. Chung's exasperation began to show.
CHUNG: So you're suggesting that the police didn't quite ask you the right questions?
Again, Chung urged Condit to "clear the air," and appealed to his duty to assist in a missing persons case.
CONDIT: Well, but you and I work under two different assumptions here, I think. I think it's my job to work for the people who ... have the responsibility to find Chandra, not to go out and do news conferences and do talk shows to talk about that. . . .
In response to Chung's question, Condit stated that he had last seen Ms. Levy on April 24 or 25 at his apartment. No, they had not discussed the future of their relationship, but rather, the fact that Levy had lost her internship with Justice.
Responding to Chung's question, Condit stated that he had last spoken with Ms. Levy on April 29, once, very briefly by phone.
CHUNG: She had called you repeatedly on that date. Correct?
Had Levy been upset about anything? Had Condit broken off their relationship?
CONDIT: We never had a cross word. It was simply about her travel plans, that she was talking about going back to California. She was real excited about, uh, ... going through her ceremony at USC. . . . She wasn't upset about losing her job. She, that, it was a little, she was a little disappointed by it. But she, she had other plans and other hopes. And, and she, she took it very good.
Condit stated that he and Ms. Levy spoke several times a week, not several times a day. He refused to indicate how often she had visited himat his apartment, saying that he had given that information to the authorities.
CHUNG: Forgive me, but why are you reluctant to answer that question?
Had Chandra Levy told Condit she was pregnant?
CHUNG: On that same day, Chandra left a message for her aunt, saying she had some important news. . . . Do you know if she was pregnant?
In the next exchange, Condit indicated that he had called and left a message for Ms. Levy on April 30th or May 1st or even May 2nd at her apartment. He said he understood that Levy was taking the train to California and that the trip would take four days. On May 6, his wife, on a rare visit to her husband in Washington, received a call from Levy's father, stating that his daughter was missing. At Levy's request, Condit contacted the FBI.
CONDIT: That was the first time I had heard that. And then, uh, you know, you're horrified, but at the same time, you're a parent, and you think there might be another side to this, that it's just a mistake. So I called Dr. Levy at home, and, uh, talked with him, and, and, uh, obviously the anxiety and the hurt in his voice prompted me to commit to him that I would call the law enforcement people immediately because he had thought that the Metropolitan police department had not taken it seriously; maybe she'd just gone on extended holiday or something.
Condit denied that he had had a year-long affair with flight attendant Anne Marie Smith or that he had induced her to lie in an affidavit.
CONDIT: I didn't ask anyone to lie about anything. I did not ask Anne Marie not to cooperate with law enforcement. That's an absolute lie.
CONDIT: Because she didn't.
CHUNG: Why would she make it up?
CONDIT: You know, Connie, I'm, uh, I'm puzzled by, uh, by people who take advantage of tragedy, a missing person that they don't even know.
CHUNG: You're saying that she completely fabricated this?
CONDIT: She, she's taken advantage of this tragedy. She didn't know Chandra Levy. So she gets to have her moment of publicity, of financial gain. And I'm puzzled by that.
A few hours before police searched Condit's apartment, he was seen discarding in a dumpster a watchbox that he claimed to have had in his office which he was just then cleaning out.
CHUNG: But why throw it in a dumpster, uh, somewhere, instead of just throwing it in the trash can in your office?
Condit refused to take a lie detector test administered by the police, but did take and pass one administered by a former FBI trainer.
CONDIT: I think you'll find that people in the FBI now have seen the polygraph test, they can read the polygraph test, and it makes total sense to them. So we basically thought we were being helpful, just found the best guy we could find.
Condit acknowledged that events and the press had been tough on his family, but minimized the interference with his life compared to that suffered by the Levy's. As time ran down, Chung again urged candor.
CHUNG: Do you fear that the public out there may be very disappointed that you didn't come forward and reveal details today, as we sit here tonight?
Condit reiterated that he had no idea what had happened to Chandra Levy. He asserted that his family was "intact" despite the "innuendos and half-truths" from the press. Again, he stated that he was "not a perfect man," and had made mistakes.
CHUNG: Are you talking about moral mistakes?